Dwight Longenecker on the Danger of Universalism

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The real problem is that the modern Catholic Church is shot through with the heresy of universalism and semi-universalism.

What is universalism? The belief that "everyone will eventually be saved no matter what." Semi-universalism is "we hope and believe that everyone will be saved no matter what." In other words, semi- universalism is universalism for those who don't have the guts to be universalists.

Universalism is a heresy because it is a half truth. Christ did die for all, but the universalist only holds on to that part of the truth. He denies the other half of the full truth, that not everyone will accept that grace and therefore some will go to hell.

It is a sentimentalist heresy because it is based not on clear thinking or logic or the authority of Church teaching or the catechism or the Sacred Scriptures, for there is no support anywhere for universalism in the Catholic faith.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman Catholic* South Carolina* TheologyEschatology

9 Comments
Posted November 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm

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1. Terry Tee wrote:

Universalism undercuts the urgency of making a response to the message of Christ.  So much of what Jesus says leads us to the importance of making a choice - the labourers in the vineyard all got paid the same, even those who went at the eleventh hour, but the point is that they went.  Choose life scripture tells us.  Choose.  Make a commitment.  All that of course is central to our faith.  But, dear friends, what do you say at a funeral where the deceased has been lapsed for many years?  I think you have to say that we trust in a merciful God.  Moreover, the parable of the great assize has salvation given to those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick - not universalism, but not a direct credal test either, and perhaps suggesting that a merciful God looks into the heart, and that love of neighbour may yet bring a pronouncement of mercy.  God gives us salvation, clearly and unequivocally, through faith and baptism - but at the same time we cannot limit God.  This was part of the message of the medieval anchoress Julian of Norwich.  Even von Balthasar - made a cardinal by John Paul II - dared to hope for universal salvation, apocatastasis in which all would be reconciled.

November 28, 5:54 pm | [comment link]
2. C. Wingate wrote:

Longenecker is, in his usual way, exaggerating, and some of what he says is dependent on Romish errors which the 39 Articles say I have to reject. wink I think his rejection of semi-universalism is based on nothing more than aesthetics. But I have to say that I cannot reconcile the very heavy emphasis on the commands in the parable of the sheep and the goats with a rejection of the judgement that the parable sets forth. Betting on universalism is a bet against, I don’t know, maybe three-quarters of the New testament.

November 28, 11:43 pm | [comment link]
3. Pete Haynsworth wrote:

Re: “But anyhow, the word ‘many’ in the canon is balanced by the words the priest says at the introduction to communion, ‘Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.’ “

It just so happens that, at a nice performanxe of “The Messiah” on Saturday, the opening chorus of Part II was sung “Behold ... the _sin_ of the world”.  Sins or sin ... which is it?  Does it matter?  “Peccata” in the Agnus Dei is “sins”. (Had to look it up, classroom Latin being a half-century past).

FWIW, this pewsitter prefers the singular “sin”, with its collective - dare it be said, “universal” - connotation

November 29, 3:36 am | [comment link]
4. Br. Michael wrote:

No one speaks more of sin and judgment than Jesus.  Jesus preaching and teaching are replete with the need to chose God and repent from sin and He does not shy away from pronouncing the consequences of sin.

We don’t like the consequences of sin, we want to get off without amendment of life.  Yes, Jesus died in atonement for our sins and does all that is necessary for our salvation, but we have to respond and God allows us to say No.  All of scripture says No to universalism.  The life-ring is there, but you have to grasp it.

November 29, 9:09 am | [comment link]
5. Catholic Mom wrote:

As with so many things, the problem is that it’s not an either/or.  It’s not “either Jesus taught an urgent message that required an immediate response or else everything he said is merely more in the form of a suggestion that you may or may not choose to take up but it won’t really make any difference anyway.” 

No question that Jesus’ message had urgency.  The whole NT from start to finish is “Wake up! Listen!  The world as we know it is passing away!  Respond now!”  You don’t even need to get into eschatology to see how this applies to every life.  Jesus is calling you right *now*.  If you don’t respond, right now, right at this moment, when will you?  Life is completely ephemeral.  You have only *now* in which to respond.  And Jesus and the Church lay out pretty clearly what is necessary for salvation.  And I don’t think “universalism” or “semi-universalism” rejects that.

The issue arises when we consider that the number of people who have even had a chance to hear Jesus’ message has been a relatively small minority of all of those who have ever lived.  And by “hear” I mean “have significant contact with believing Christians who are competent to evangelize” not “looked up the word “Christianity” on Wikipedia.”  What happens to those people?  The parable of the sheep and the goats suggests that they will be judged on the basis of how they have treated the least among them.  Note that the parable of the sheep and the goats is not a “feel good, don’t worry, everybody will be saved” parable at all.  In fact—it has the harshest words in the whole NT:  “Depart from me you cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels from the beginning of the world.” 

The catchism says that the only known sure way to salvation is through baptism and faith, yet it says [847] that the teaching “outside the Church, there is no salvation” does not include those who “through no fault of their own do know Christ and his Church”  and so we may hope, though we do not know for certain, that there is a mechanism that those “who seek God with a sincere heart and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

You can call this “semi-universalism” or whatever you want but, by definition, it is not a “heresy” that the Church is “shot through with” since it is the official teaching of the Catholic Church.  (That is, if you’re a Catholic you can’t call it a heresy.  If you’re a Protestant you can call the entire catechism a heresy but that’s a different story. smile )

November 29, 10:28 am | [comment link]
6. Catholic Mom wrote:

BTW, I recall Matt Kennedy arguing at length on a thread on Standfirm that unbaptized children (for example, those who die before birth) will definitely be saved although the Protestant concept of “sola fide” would pretty much seem to argue against that.

The catechism says [1261] “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.  Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died with Baptism.”

Are Matt Kennedy and the Catholic Church universalists??  This “heresy” is really widespread indeed!

November 29, 10:40 am | [comment link]
7. NewTrollObserver wrote:

To add to Catholic Mom, the practice of the Catholic tradition does not mean that one can simply rely solely upon one’s own interpretation of biblical verses, whether those verses are those of Jesus or of Paul. One might conclude that the implication of Jesus’s statements is that there are some, or many, who will definitely not be saved, but that is not the Church’s conclusion. The Church has not said that there is any one particular person who will not be saved, nor has the Church said that there is definitely at least one person, name unknown, who will not be saved.

Thus, the Church (1) can hold out the perfectly non-heretical *hope*—not “certainty”—that (2) all will *voluntarily* accept God’s offer of salvation. The Church rejects any universalism that argues that (1) universal salvation is a “certainty” or that (2) salvation will be “forced” or imposed upon those unwilling to accept such salvation. To claim that universalism necessarily involves salvation definitively “forced” upon an unwilling recipient is disingenuous at best.

November 29, 12:12 pm | [comment link]
8. Br. Michael wrote:

Is it not too difficult to make a distinction between a new born baby who dies in childbirth and a 21 year old who hears the gospel and rejects it?  Please!

Salvation is by grace.  God saves whom He wills.  And the Scriptures set out God’s thinking on the subject.  If you are old enough to understand what God want’s, then do it and don’t argue.

If you want to do it your way, then fine.  Adam tried that and look where that got him.

November 29, 8:58 pm | [comment link]
9. Catholic Mom wrote:

Umm..do you not get that no one is making the comparison?  What’s being stated is that it is possible to believe that there is a way that those who do not know Jesus will still be saved.  That is obviously different from saying that someone who does know Jesus and rejects him will be saved.  Indeed, the defintion of “damnation” is, essentially, the willful rejection of the love of God.

November 29, 10:03 pm | [comment link]


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